Quantum Big Time

Entanglement is certainly one of the most out there and interesting observations in quantum mechanics.

I have written here about it in more detail before, but just briefly: In the basic experiment, if two particles are born together, say a particle goes through a crystal and is “broken” into two each with half the energy of the first, they are entangled. Not because they share inherent properties, which to some degree they do (like the amount of energy that must be conserved), but because they are entangled. When you measure one of the quantum properties that measurement result can vary within those results that are allowed according to quantum laws (say magnetic spin or polarization) in that one particle, and the corresponding property the in the other, sister particle is immediately determined. Anywhere in space, instantaneously, not obeying the speed of light limit (and some experiments, called delayed choice, even suggest a time component i.e. it is determined before you did the measurement, which is even more mind boggling!!)

Many think this suggests Mind plays a role, or is evidence we are all one, non-duality. It certainly does suggest that, but it is all so inconceivable, so beyond what I can grasp with my brain (and I am not alone; the great physicist Feynman famously said, and I paraphrase, you can’t understand this),  I shy away from interpretations because it is so beyond intellectual thought for me it is like a deep koan and I keep my conclusions to:

Whatever you think, based on your 4-d (space and time) experience and scale of sense perceptions is true is wrong in some basic and ultimate way. The universe, Truth, is deeper and more omnipresent than your brain functions.

I do think the deepest view, to the degree views can approach Truth, is Mind and non-duality as the core of Truth, and sure entanglement is about non-locality in space and time and so is consistent with that (as we say in medicine and science), but I admit after all these years still I balk a bit where others I respect, those I have suggested you look into in these blogs, do not fear to tread. I just know we don’t really understand quantum mechanics so I wont bet my Mind on it, as we measure it  it in our experiments.

And it certainly doesn’t mean whatever fantasy you have about non-locality and its implications is right, of course. Good luck on jumping off a roof and trying to manifest a soft landing by thinking quantum states of the ground. As Bob Lanza said, there is cause and effect. You have karma. Don’t get arrogant and indulgent. Is your little brain in that itty-bitty boney box really that pure and powerful? Be careful about confusing your brain with Mind, non-Duality as meaning your ego, your perspective and delusions, your hopes and fears, is the universe. After all, that’s wisdom, that’s spiritual practice, not aggrandizing the ego with uber-spirituality and just adding more delusion by interpreting the truth through what you’d like to believe. (It’s also science. Ha did the science spirituality thing again!)

One scientific criticism has been that this is limited to single of a few particles or atoms. Well, now it has been none at the level you can see with a magnifying glass or certainly a $50 toy microscope, the level of small cells (i.e. life). Look up:

Einstein’s ‘spooky action’ goes massive: The elusive … – ScienceDaily


The criticism to extrapolating to your day to day life is that is was done near –273 degrees centigrade, absolute zero where all but the most basic quantum effects determined by Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle stop (cant stop completely; that is very deep and Buddhist also; can’t stop change), about 3 degrees colder than the universe in deep space.

Well, quantum effects have been seen in warm wet living beings, they may just be harder to demonstrate.

Remember, the ancients, our spiritual and philosophical ancestors, came to this without quantum mechanics! And practice (and science!) is about authenticity I think, not proving some a priori claim however cool and whether I agree with it.

But even if it doesn’t mean you are likely to (or should feel a delusional need to) try to quantum change the ground if you challenge time and space by jumping off a roof, or that it PROOVES we are all one, Mind and non-duality and all that, at least, at a minimum, we can revel in the deep mystery, the underlying unity it suggests beyond our concepts and experience.

All Now, No Now

Is “now” really only an illusion?

Certainly a universal now that you can perceive as a universal now is impossible. As I mentioned in a recent blog, whatever we are responding to as occurring “right now” is a conglomeration of recent energy states that we integrated into a story based on our conditioning (physical, biological, intellectual, psychological). As the Lankavatara sutra says, we project our delusions and illusions and then we take them as out there in reality.

Quantum mechanics demands that there can’t be a zero time, there is Planck time, which is exceedingly short, way shorter than anything anyone can comprehend or any technology can even get hope to get anywhere near. This is in part related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: if something could be stopped in time and space, a frozen now that we could capture and measure,  we would know both its momentum and position at that time, and that isn’t allowed.

Also, a time called “now” where all things that are simultaneous to one person’s experience are simultaneous in the experience of all observers, regardless of movement and orientation, is an illusion. Relativity theory quantifies that!

A photon travelling at the speed of light is not in time. The photon’s clock slows to infinitely slow (time dilation; or if time were smooth it would, that is, but as in quantum mechanics maybe it just “approaches” infinitely slow…). The photon also gets infinitely thin, flattened out (space contraction; or it would if space were infinitely smooth, so again, it approaches infinitely flat…). That is, until it hits your eye. Then it is a point particle interacting with your photoreceptor after having travelled perhaps millions of years and trillions upon trillions of miles from a distant star, maybe even a distant galaxy far, far away).

So is there no now? Just the illusion?

Or is it ALL now? As Nyogen Roshi said in his talk today, the infinite now, no beginning no end.


How long is now?

A building I saw in what was formerly East Berlin a few years back

Now as no time and all time may be much the same, I think. So short it can’t be measured and so vast and universal it can’t be measured. Bigger than big, shorter than short.


Related is the identity of relative and absolute, as a poem we chant is called. This is on a tee shirt I got from Nara, a Buddhist Temple in Japan a bit outside Kyoto. It says, in essence, in the many, One, in One the many. They translated it as in a drop of blood the whole universe. I have also heard it as in a drop of water (or in an atom or particle, or string) the whole universe, but that’s not the pattern you see there on the tee shirt. It is in pattern and spirit I think more like the Heart Sutra (we also chant): form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Or the identity of the relative  and absolute.


Watching a fantastic nature show on PBS about the Pacific Ocean I was reminded how creative life is. Now, I know to some that sounds like I am slipping into intelligent design. Think what you will, but how can you look at the awesome variety of life and not be just overwhelmed? Why, though, use the word creative? Especially since it sounds like intelligent design, that dastardly back door creationists and other religious zealots use to seek religion into schools? Fair question.

Because for me, the word ‘creative’ fits as well for the canvas of life and being, as it does for a painting or a poem.

Creativity could be defined just as some human activity, or a brain activity at most (extending the attribute to a few other animals); fine, I wont argue. I’m just not so taken with the primacy of brain activity.

I like a bigger definition of creativity because it works for me, it captures something relevant, I think. Expanding the word creativity beyond clever brain burps that re-arrange the deck chairs of our perceptions captures the amazing, unrelenting tendency of the universe to come up with an expanding array of form and function.

There is a continuity of life, a center that is manifest in our genes, and in our bodies, but there has been a tinkering on tinkering still seen clearly in our genome and in the fossils, in the earth itself, that records how we changed, then changed the environment, then we changed again; a dance of four billion or so years.

            Creative because life is always something old that becomes something new. It reaches into and changes around every possible nook and cranny. It never stops, it isn’t reaching a goal, it is always creating new forms most wondrous.

            So still, is that really creative, just because there are never seen before variations? Don’t we have a special clever input into our creativity?

Yes and no.

Yes, regarding a special attribute that is creativity, that is our conceit. We make art. We have creative impulses. We project that out. We want meaning in our creativity, meaning that gives us meaning.

Again, fair enough f you define it that way.

But maybe the answer is no, there’s more.

Where do our creative impulses come from that act on the materials, the media, we fashion in our creativity? Are they really that different from the spark of a virtual particle arising at the vast, if not infinite, unperceivable (except indirectly) quantum foam, or the quantum fields of energy that can not be measured directly, but only as they change and morph, become manifest to us as particles? How creative is it to go from a unified source of all energy, a single force, an infinitely small whatever, a singularity in the jargon, to a universe, as science teaches us happened?

Or is it an infinite universe where all things that can happen will? That may be the most creative of all, the essential creativity of being!

I this creativity really different using, being, the simple substrate of a few types of atoms arranged in patterns that will encode information and interact and produce such a pageant of pulsating, squirming, burrowing, swimming, soaring complexity of life as we see around us, as we are in it and it in us?

            I was talking about my fiction writing with someone a couple of days ago. I do work with a general outline, but what is most fun for me, whether good or bad form the literary viewpoint is irrelevant, is when the story, the characters just come out. They surprise me. They come from a quiet place. It isn’t a question of uniqueness (Buddhism 101: all things, all composite entities,express karma uniquely as the result of contingencies upon contingencies, no beginning, no end) or talent (the skill of achieving the result you are after and the aesthetics of pleasing others. That is not the essence of creativity, though it may be a factor in whether you spend time or money on a work of art as a consumer).


The quiet place is the source.

A straight line is an infinite set of waves that can form incredible patterns, but as long as they cancel out over all, if the same amount of up equals the same amount down at the point of the line, there is no array of of the vast potential of intricate patterns, only the line. Of course the line itself, made up of points that are mere constructs, and for that matter the point on the line we are looking at, doesn’t exist. It’s the nothing left over that the waves would have been above or below if they weren’t perfectly balanced, perfectly symmetrical, above and below (or in 3 dimensions, they also balance front and back, and in four, five dimensions…).

Just perhaps, it is all creativity all the time, this vast arising and falling in the quiet place, the dream we tell stories our about.

Does it mean an outside creator intelligently designing?

No, I reject that dualistic notion.

Some call it Mind, or consciousness, or Buddha.

            Mind dancing.

 You don’t have to give it a name or conceptualize it. That’s the point of the  tetralemma in buddhist logic; whatever you can say, you’ll be wrong. After all it’s not: true, false, both or neither.

      It’s Zazen, the quiet place.






We Cant Wish Ourselves Out of Any of This (wish we could!)

Hakuin Zenji the great 18th century Japanese master, pipe dreams himself as an old woman former prostitute poet.


It is incumbent on us not to be married to the stories we tell ourselves.

That is not an excuse to think that nothing you think matters.

Of course, “matters” is relative and subjective, a product of mind.

But then, so is existence.

I have of late been concerned, as I bet you have, about the state of our nation and world. It is awesome in the sense of being overwhelming. Stunning in the sense of of being hit in the gut and having your breath knocked out.

What level of greed and delusion is our species capable of?

Look around.

A wall in Berlin


I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a professor of history. We don’t only learn from history in the sense of studying events that have occurred long enough ago to somehow be at a sufficient distance that they are described in summary form in textbooks and can be “processed,” that is, to have developed a coherent story about the events that relates to our world view (the big stories we tell ourselves). Events aren’t made into history after some respectable time has elapsed. Everything you experience is history. The “now” is too fleeting to grasp. Science teaches us that energy must reach us, cause changes in energy states in our sense organs, change the membrane states in the nerves that feed our brain, then our brains must sort the data about these energy transformations and decide how it relates to your stories and experience; all in time and space.

So, your “now” is a result of transformations that happened in the past.

It’s all history.

In my personal life I have sought liberation by pursuing my practice. More and more I appreciate the wisdom of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past. That is true when seeking to forgive others and to forgive your self. That is especially true when you consider that to the extent you perceive, think, feel, and conclude anything about anything, you are experiencing the past.

I admit it. I find that I often wish for a better past. A past where delusion, ideology, racism and greed didn’t run our country and many other countries around the world. Personally, there are times I wish I zigged instead of zagged in my life. There are times I wish those near and dear to me zigged when I hoped they would, when it would have fit my image of the way things should be, when my ego would have been more supported, but they found zagging to be what they needed to do.

But wishing is delusion, it ends up causing more pain and suffering. It is an attempt to reify our stories, what we think we need instead of want, our conditioning, our egos.

We get disappointed when reality doesn’t fit our model of it, our stories, our wishes for a better past. As Stephen Gaskin said over 45 years ago, you have to appoint to be disappointed.

Of course, this can devolve into just more concepts, an excuse to give up, to not care. In Zen we say don’t pick or choose. Well, be careful about how you parse words and concepts. Compassion is at the base of Buddhism, of any religion or philosophy or world-view that isn’t just a way to rationalize greed and delusion. We may not want to be slave to our egotistical, conditioned picking and choosing, but we discriminate a rock from a potato, a kitten from a cobra, compassion from greed.

Hakuin Zenji not deceiving himself and occupying the ground he sits on

In Zen we say start where you are. Occupy the ground you stand on. Maezumi Roshi stressed no self-deception. Easy to agree with; what else would make any sense? Actually doing it, I find, is not so easy. How often do we like where we find ourselves? It isn’t always pretty, is it? But what else is there? Where else can you start, and what other strategy but no self-deception would possibly matter (see above)?

In the past few months I haven’t been too interested in math and science, other than as a professional medical scientist. Seemed a distraction. I have enjoyed taking a bit of a philosophical/metaphysical turn (in the sense of philosophizing about the implications of science) reading, for example, Bernardo Kastrup. Then last week I was talking about the coolness of quantum mechanics talking to a friend at the Zen center who has a strong math background, and I found myself fired up, going back to review some math and science and loving it; so pure, so elegant, so inherently not greedy, insane and devious.

Dogen said to study Buddhism is to forget the self. At least when delving into how an abstract logical construct like linear algebra ends up being a way to describe quantum phenomenon, I can, for a bit, forget myself. OK, that’s not totally true, and it certainly isn’t what Dogen was really saying. He said body and mind fall away, and mine hasn’t, not even when absorbed in new material. But still, it seems to at least give me a little break from all of the noise.

I like that you can’t cheat it without, well, cheating, and what’s the point of that? And it can get deeper as you return to it. You might have a certain understanding of a mathematical operation, but seeing how it works in another context, say linear algebra in quantum mechanics, brings you deeper; very cool.

Myths and stories can do that too, and I do like creative writing and have been doing some of that as well. I read somewhere you might as well do art; worse that can happen is it sucks, then you toss it. I like that. Nice if it doesn’t suck though, but hey, gotta start somewhere.


Of course, the ultimate art, the great performance piece, is our lives and our deaths.

Keep on dancing!



Beware Being Seduced by the Cool in Quantum



I have written about the fascinating and weird quantum mechanics of double slit experiments and entanglement. Gotta love it!  I will write more about quantum mechanics, time, far out speculations, and I am thinking more and more, along those line about entropy. Entropy is often thought of as a measure of randomness, disorder, and in information theory, ignorance. It seems to be on the one hand trivially statistical and on the other hand deeply embedded in our experience and how energy interacts with energy. Some think it is why we perceive time. More on that later. I have some more thinking to do about that first.

Part of what has inspired me in that direction is a book I am reading now, “Now, the physics of time” by Richard A Muller. I just came to a part where he wrote about the worst theoretical prediction in science, and it was a result of the mathematics of the most beloved and trusted theory, quantum mechanics. It concerns dark energy and the predictions as to whether quantum vacuum fluctuations, the variations in energy and virtual particles demanded by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and seen experimentally, could explain the accelerating expansion of the universe we seem to observe. This would be instead of dark energy, a kind of negative gravity that is also quite speculative but would better explain recent observations about the dynamics of space and galaxies at the scale of the visible universe. Well, the prediction of the magnitude of the effect of these quantum vacuum fluctuations on the expansion of the universe was off by 10 with 120 zeros after it. That is one big number! That isn’t just wrong, that is bizarrely, sarcastically, profoundly, embarrassingly wrong.

He points out this has been called the “worst prediction in the history of physics.”

Well, quantum mechanics does describe some things exquisitely well, but there is a reason that scientists in some cases spend their careers on speculative mathematics such as string theory. And while we can’t deny the wonderfully tantalizing hints about reality that quantum mechanics serve up to us, we have to remember it isn’t infallible. It is a reflection of the questions we ask. Ask the right ones, it gives great answers. Ask others, it gives answers that surprise and delight and tantalize. Ask yet others, total nonsense.

And that is my main point! So you don’t get quantum mechanics? Well, you can’t get it! It is at its best a great tool but as fare as understanding reality, mind, consciousness, and who you are, it is still just a peek. A peek that is important because it reminds us that the solid, this and that, this then that, the material, the existence of linear time and space  as we experience it in our daily lives, is not quite how it is, that it is an illusion of our sureness, of the scale we live in.  Now, somehow my last sentence was autocorrected but I liked it! I meant to write “illusion of our senses” and it spit out sureness. OK both work, and maybe an illusion of our sureness is even more accurate!

Anyway, that’s how I approach it. Nobody really thinks science can give us a final answer that is experimentally valid. The energies involved are technically not feasible, but beyond the technical limitations, we are limited by demanding answers that fit our brains. No experiment can get outside “reality” to measure it.

To me quantum mechanics, beyond how it helps us make better toys, is just a hint that what we perceive and measure is not how it really works.

It is kind of liberating. How do you see the universe when you know time and space and the nature of what you perceive is the tiniest slice of the pie and sometimes so wrong it is “not even wrong”? How crazy is it when science leads us to that precipice?

I am not so concerned with all of the interpretations, though I will read about them, share them, and get mind blown by them, but they won’t ever prove anything without some uncertainty because they cant ever be certain. And I don’t think that is just due to technical limitations, but limitations of what we can grasp with our senses, however expanded by technology, as being observations in time in space, defined by time and space, experiments performed in time and space, themselves dicey concepts at best.

But besides being mind-blowingly beautiful, elegant, interesting and of value in reminding us of our limitations, if nothing else, quantum mechanics reminds us how deep and profound and unanswerable by the intellect that the very fact of existence, the very fact of consciousness, at its root, is.

It isn’t permission to think every silly delusion you can come up with is therefor true or has equal probability of being true. But it does mean that it is a wild and crazy universe and allowing yourself the freedom to explore the craziness, to embrace and transcend the craziness, to not be limited by the paucity of data, the lack of imagination, the concrete materialistic linear time and space thinking, and certainly to go beyond the dictates of the metaphysics of scientists who disagree with each other (e.g. string theory anyone? Time and space a real entity? Well, certainly not every scientist agrees!) seems a “reasonable” approach. Not that “reasonable” has all that much traction when we get to the level of quantum mechanics, horrible errors, and unproven theories, whether string theories, multiple dimensions,  branes etc.

We can be liberated by the weirdness, and needn’t be limited by the limitations and definitions of what seems reasonable, which will change from one scientist to another when we are at this level of science.

Note that I am not talking about technical, cool observations like discovering exoplanets, or important matters that can be measured and assessed with the tools of science, like the effect of immune therapies for cancer on the pathogenesis of ocular inflammation, and when seemingly paradoxical effects are seen, as me and my fellow researchers have, understanding what that means therapeutically and for how the immune system works (a current research interest of mine), or for understanding and trying to deal with issues like water use, climate change and other environmental problems (bees, date pollution, health of the oceans, etc, etc.), for example. Deny this stuff at your peril and at the cost of great suffering.

I am talking about how we try to answer the big questions of our lives, and science won’t do that. It can approach it, but never reach it. It isn’t built for it.

At the core, it is about who you are that counts. And while that entails quantum mechanics, it isn’t limited by it.

What is it that  “is”? What is consciousness, your very experience of being, what it is like to be? Is that limited by our senses, by time and space, when time and space are themselves called into question by science?

What really is life itself, beyond a working definition of replication, carbon bonds, information, variation, and handwaving ideas like “emergent properties”?

Cool as the quantum world is, as much as it is our world, there is more, it isn’t the whole story.

Or maybe there is less.

You, however, are the whole story.




It’s All About Mind at Play; That Is, It’s All About You


From the book “ A Beautiful Question” by Nobel Prize winner for physics Frank Wiczek:

“The human mind is our ultimate sense organ.” p. 159

This is true. Buddhism has had the mind as the sixth sense as a given truth for a couple of thousand years plus. Note Wiczek wrote “our” and that’s why “human brain.” It would also be true of any sentient being, brain or no brain.

This is also consistent with Biocentrism, as described in the two books by Bob Lanza and Bob Berman, “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism.”

There is no separation, no out there. Sentience is all that exists. Beyond sentience, how can we talk about existence? What right, what warrant, as the logicians say, would we have for postulating something or nothing outside of sentience?

All our sense organs do is register changes in energy, but that is meaningless without sentience. In Lanza and Berman’s most recent book “Beyond Biocentrism” Berman writes about how it blew his mind and he had an enlightenment experience just contemplating that the whole universe he experiences is only what is in his head. This occurred when he was studying for an undergraduate biology course!

Savor that. He went satori reading a college level science textbook, usually thought to be the most intellectual, materialistic, uninspiring, boring thing anyone can read! Go figure! This is a valuable lesson: don’t limit your universe with your preconceptions.

Of course, that’s exactly what we do!

And how is that consistent with ‘no out there, no separation’? A couple of analogies or thought experiments might help:

Cut off one of your fingers (do it under local anesthesia, don’t be cruel). Keep it alive in some nutrient broth. You may experience phantom sensations, still experiencing that finger as being at the end of your hand. Like you did before you cut it off. Those feelings are all in your brain; the finger’s in a vat in another room. The finger was always an experience in your head. And later burn the finger. Did you feel it burn? That finger was you; it is you…right? Maybe not when your head doesn’t feel the pain? The finger has nerves that were kept alive, and they are certainly firing away, but how can we speak of pain as it burns in another room, separated from your brain? All we can speak of is the energy from the fire causing electric field changes in a tissue due to ion fluxes.

A current in the ocean appears to be separate from the water around it. It has different energy, that is, different momentum (it moves in a different direction and speed and may have different density from the water around it due to temperature differences i.e. a different mass/volume of space. Momentum is mass times velocity; velocity is speed with direction. Momentum, along with potential energy, is how we describe the total energy of a system in mechanics). The local differences in momentum are why it is experienced as a current. But it’s all water. It’s all one ocean, no matter how we divide it up with different names based on our limited experience, our local sampling of conditions, and our perceived needs in our subjective time and space. The energy of the current will dissipate and equalize with the rest of the ocean unless energy is pumped in by the sun and mediated by temperature changes, kinetic energy from storms, etc. Either way, nothing is lost, nothing is gained. Just energy transformations in One Ocean.

These analogies sound dualistic, so this and that, here and there. All those fingers, brains, oceans and currents. But that’s just the limited nature of analogies and language. What does Buddhism say about this? We chant “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute,” a Zen poem by Sekito Kisen from the Song dynasty about a thousand years ago that I have written about on this website before. He wrote: “the relative and absolute fit together like a box and its lid.” The ancient Zen master grasped this apparent scientific conundrum of what seems like duality in what must be non-duality (must be; how can there be something else? Again, by what warrant do we come up with such a silly concept as dualism?), and wrote a poem that holds up a millennium later. Gotta love it.

There is symmetry in the identity of the relative and absolute. The key word is identity; that is what a symmetry is. Change that keeps an identity. A circle is rotated; it changes but is still identically the same circle. It is symmetric to rotation.

As I have written about here before, symmetry is at the core of the mathematical formulations of modern physics. Wiczek writes about symmetry, describing it on p. 166 of his book as “Change Without Change.” He goes on to write that this is “a strange inhuman mantra for the soul of creation. Yet its very unworldliness presents an opportunity: we can expand our imaginative vision by making its wisdom our own.”

But while I agree about its wisdom, I think it is actually very human and not really unworldly, except in our limited day-to-day quotidian experience of our world; it’s just not limited by our humanity, by our “worldly” experiences in the illusion of time and space.

Change without Change. The identity of relative and absolute. That’s as hard-core, old school Buddhism as it gets.


Science’s best model (quantum physics) says it’s all energy fields, throughout space and time. But as Lanza and Berman point out in their books on Biocentrism, time and space are dicey concepts. We invent time and space post hoc and ad hoc, to try to bring it all down to size, to grasp it all for what seem in our delusion to be ‘practical purposes,’ to fit our conditioned ideas of reality, our beliefs. Yet we know that relativity says time and space are part and parcel of each other, without independent foundation, at best fluid and relational and elastic, and quantum mechanics says time and space have absolutely no relevance to such basic observations as entanglement and two slit experiments, that reflect the behavior of particle or sets of particles, the most basic of basic entities science can grasp, and by extension, all that is.

Or as the Zen master Dogen wrote almost 800 years ago: Being-Time. Time as our lives. Time is Being, Time is sentience, time is Mind. Space is just the same.


So we have quantum fields without beginning or end, bottomless and topless, because there is no “where” and “when” until we chose to define it. Fields are described by magnitude and direction wherever you look. A particle is a concentration of the energy of that field, a local manifestation, in the sentient perception of space and time.

That’s all there is folks. In quantum mechanics there is no difference between here and there, other than how energy manifests as field or particle when perceived (measured, which is perception), then transforming itself in response. Like Indra’s net of the Avatamsaka sutra, where every jewel instantly reflects the light of every other jewel, which then reflects the light of every other jewel, which then…

And in all this, energy is conserved. Energy is symmetric. Nothing ever added or lost, just self-transformed. Science only understands energy by its perceived transformations. Can’t define or measure it directly. Can’t say where it came from or where it is going (no beginning no end).

As written in the Heart Sutra, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Fields (undefined, without limit, without substance, without inherent separate reality) are particles, particles are fields. Mind is stuff, stuff is Mind. Relative and absolute are an identity.


Or as our ancestors said, as our Zen teachers who know what they are talking about teach, and as Lanza and Berman in their Biocentrism details, it’s all Mind, Consciousness. And keep in mind, mind is Mind, consciousness is Consciousness. Your mind, my mind, our mind, all is relative/local/particle (if you will) manifestations of absolute Mind. Your mind and Buddha Mind, you and the Buddha Field. Like particle and field, or particle and wave if you prefer, as identical as the identity of relative and absolute of ancient Sekito’s poem. Don’t get hung up thinking the words that pop into your head, the concepts you are conditioned to believe, are the limit of your mind.


Red Pine writes in his translation of the Diamond Sutra that the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po said: “Buddha and beings share the same identical mind.”

Mind is Buddha, the ancients said. OK, they also said Buddha is a turd. Or the cypress tree outside. And they meant it. Literally.

Nyogen Roshi likes to remind us that the Buddhist sutras, the reports of the saying of the Buddha, are about us, our lives. Lanza and Berman, in their books on Biocentrism, say the same thing. It is you. Always was, always will be, to whatever extent we can talk about always. In all ways.

As the late Stephen Gaskin titled one of his books: it is all “Mind at Play.”






Belief Traps


The Diamond Sutra professes that we mistakenly believe in ourselves as persons that are persistent and real entities. We make it up. We want to believe we are this and that and more.

The Lankavatara sutra discusses how we approach reality blinded by  our perceptions and projections, creating rabbits with horns.

A Zen Master said, name the color, classifying it and believing thereby that you know what it “is” in some concrete and enduring manner, and you blind the eye.

As the Enlightenment polymath and genius Laplace is supposed to have said on his death bed, we chase phantoms.


We want to grasp intellectually, to touch, smell, taste, see, and hear it all. And when we can’t, we fill in the blanks with what we believe should be there, projecting our beliefs, like the way our brains fill in the physiologic/anatomic blind spots in our vision or the details in our peripheral vision that we don’t really see.

We are trapped by our beliefs, and they don’t have to be the clearly wrongheaded absurd beliefs those other people believe that lead to such disasters all of the time, as we can plainly see. Seemingly benign and elegant beliefs can still trap us and become a filter, a distortion, an unconscious bias that keeps us in a fog of delusion, keeping us in a stupor of ignorance.

On top of that, when we have sufficient insight to discover a belief we might be trapped by, a cobbled together way to pretend to ourselves that we know what we are talking about, to explain ourselves and to make our selves more comfortable, allowing us to at least have the illusion that we have some control over things we don’t really understand or have the big picture for, we often simply replace that exposed belief with a more subtle or palatable belief.

We use beliefs as shortcuts, to make our lives easier. That may be a necessary temporizing measure, but it doesn’t work for long. Our beliefs often confer a false security. We are like the turkey that thinks seeing the farmer means feeding time, until of course he is carrying an axe one morning in late November.

This is because beliefs, to the extent that they are beliefs, reflect our state of ignorance, which means our degree of entropy and disorganization, the energy not available for us to use consciously and conscientiously (more on entropy, ignorance and information later), and are at best simply a set of working hypotheses to guide us until we evolve and mature in our actual experience of reality.

Both Buddhism and science (though not all Buddhists or scientists, of course) stress experience (the word “experiment” was derived from the word “experience”), not authority or beliefs. But lacking the requisite experience and maturity, driven by fear and grasping for reassurance, we can’t abide empty files, incomplete knowledge or unclassified experience. They taunt us and remind us of our ignorance, our tentative situation. Of impermanence. Of our limitations in the world of the senses.


Of course, that is in part why I have thought quantum mechanics might be worth looking at at all for a student of Zen. Whatever interpretation of what quantum mechanics is “really” about that you favor, quantum phenomenon minimally demonstrate that we have to resist trying to jam reality, even experimental reality, into the “how it really is” mentality of the beliefs we hold, the classifications we walk around with in our heads based on our day-to-day experience in the 4-d world of the senses at the level we experience energy transformations.

It won’t fit.

You can jam your experiences into your beliefs and your beliefs into reality, then close the lid, like pushing a spring loaded clown into a Jack in the Box, but eventually the music will stop and pop goes the weasel.

This includes beliefs in materialism (science), Platonism (math), philosophy, post-modernist relativity, religion, political or social ideals, or artistic/poetic ideals like beauty or romantic love, and yes, even Buddhism! To the extent that they are indeed beliefs that are treated as more than mere provisional models to orient you (or say Buddhism as template, as Nyogen likes to say), to the extent that they are concepts, files you need to fit your experiences into, rigid structures that can not expand as you grow and evolve, I suspect that they will sometime or another fail. And then they will cause pain and suffering for yourself and others. Or at least disappointment and disorientation!

I bring this up today because I came across this sentence that I wanted to share in a book called “My Big TOE” by Thomas Campbell:

“Jeez those belief traps are amazing – they can transmute simple ignorance and incompetence into blind stupidity in a flash.”

Been there, done that!

Beliefs: a very, very subtle practice.


photos courtesy of Susan Levinson

Indra’s Web and Quantum Entanglement: What Happens Here Happens in Everywhere and Everytime


Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that, like the two slit and interferometer experiments we looked at previously, makes a mockery of our day-to-day experience of time and space. It brings to mind the vast and unyielding interconnectedness that is Indra’s web.

Let’s say we generate two particles at the same source at the same time from the same material and send them in separate directions. These particles are entangled. What does that mean? It means what I do to one has an immediate effect on the other. They are one system throughout time and space.

Suppose I measure some property of one of the particles of a pair of entangled particles. We can measure the polarization of a photon. Polarization is the orientation of the electromagnetic field of a photon (or en masse of a beam of light). Polarizing filters in glasses block horizontally oriented (polarized) photons that might be reflected off the road or a lake surface, for example, to diminish glare. Both photons in an entangled pair will have the same polarization when measured. Measure the orientation of the polarization of one photon of an entangled pair (say you find it is either horizontal or vertical), when you measure the other photon in the pair it will be in the same orientation.

Or we can measure the spin of an electron or similar subatomic particles. Spin is not really quite spin like say a top or dreidel, as point particles don’t have dimensions like width to be spinning. But certain particles like electrons do have a kind of axis with a direction that can be determined by their interactions with magnetic fields. This spin has momentum of spin, and this angular momentum is conserved, as momentum is energy and energy is conserved; this is an important symmetry. So if one electron of an entangled pair is spin up, the other will be spin down when measured.

Now the most important phrase is “when measured.” This is critical because one of the aspects of entanglement that makes it so mind blowing is that it simply cannot be said what the polarization of either photon or the spin of either electron in the entangled pairs is until a measurement is made. Just like we saw before: there is no what it “really” is. There is no which of the two slits the particle “really” takes or which of the paths in the arms of the interferometer the particle is “really” in. There is superposition. Similarly, there is no spin or polarization until it is measured in one of the particles of the entangled pair. It neither is or isn’t! Such a dualistic, concrete material notion of what is or isn’t doesn’t work!

That should come as a surprise. After all, if I have a pair of shoes, with one shoe here in the room with me and the other shoe in in another room, and the shoe here is a left shoe, the other is going to be a right shoe (much like spin). If one shoe is black, the other will be black, if one is white, you can bet the other is white (like polarization). No great mystery. These are the properties of the shoes! So why can’t it be the same for entangled particles? The properties are inherent, even if sometimes hidden. Surely the property is there, the is or isn’t of it exists, we just don’t know what it is.

But no, there are no hidden properties. There really is no sense in which the particle has that property until it interacts in some way that demands that property, until that is, it is measured. A physicist named Bell suggested a mathematical way to test this and the experiments were later done showing to the satisfaction of almost all physicists that there are no hidden variables in these entangled quantum particles (though, as in so many aspects at the edge of physics there are some who dispute whether the final word is in). The logic for this “Bell’s inequality” is a bit complex so rather than get distracted now I will save it for another post for those interested (a book I recommend if you are interested in that by a world class quantum experimentalist that is written for lay readers and goes into this is “Dance of the Photons” by Anton Zeilinger. Zeilinger is the one who did the experiments showing Bucky balls of 60 carbon atoms have a wave function that will show quantum interference).

One reason I don’t want to get into Bell’s logic now is that there’s more to entanglement and I don’t want to get distracted but the math.

There is nonlocality, spooky action at a distance, as Einstein put it. It doesn’t matter how far away the two entangled particles are when one is measured. Scientists are convinced you could be a million light years away from the scientist measuring the other particle, trillions and trillions of miles and the million years it would take a photon to get from one scientist to the other would collapse into no space and no time separation the instant you measured one of the particles. Information, according to the theory of relativity (say about the spin of a particle), is not supposed to travel faster than the speed of light, but the measurement of one particle of a pair of entangled particles determines the properties of both particles immediately, whether the particles are a tiny fraction of a millimeter apart or they are so far apart that it would take light a million years for information as we understand it and normally experience it to traverse the distance separating them.

Clearly it isn’t a question of sending information across time and space!

And there is more. For that, lets get back to Anton Zeilinger.

Anton Zeilinger, the experimental physicist from Austria, whose book I mentioned above, is an interesting guy. He met with the Dalai Lama and other researchers and Buddhists in one of the Dalai Lama’s science and Buddhism meetings, and his talk is reported in “The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama” Edited by Arthur Zajonc, 2004 Oxford University Press.

Zeilinger starts by noting: “in classical physics and everyday life a mountain is there even when I don’t look. In quantum physics, this position no longer works.” Later the Dalai Lama asks him if “nothing can be said about the nature of light independent of the measurement whatsoever?” Zeilinger responds “that’s right.” As we have come to several times thinking about quantum experiments, it is neither there nor not there. It neither is nor isn’t, until it is or isn’t in experience.

Zeilinger goes on to discuss the double slit experiment we have gone over before. When the Dalai Lama asks if particles interact like billiard balls demanding physical contact, Zeilinger makes it very clear that “in quantum physics we have given up such pictures” and “we should not have pictures anymore” as “all pictures fail”. We are misled when we extrapolate our day-to-day experience into this realm, one of the real lessons for Zen students and the rest of us in quantum mechanics. Even science asks that you give up your prejudices, your conditioned perceptual expectations!

He says that all of this “holds not only for small things” [e.g. photons and electrons and Bucky balls] “but also for large things. It’s not a question of size; it’s a question of economy because the larger the things become, the more expensive the experiments get.” It is true that ”physicists now believe that the world is quantum mechanical through and through.”

In discussing entanglement he brings up nonlocality, which is at the heart of what we have seen so far. After all, what I do in Vegas to a photon should stay in Vegas, stay local, unless there is a local to other local to other local transmission of information. A signal propagating through space and time, a photon flying through space from a star to our eyes at the speed of light, or a signal somewhat less quickly moving through a fiber optic cable. Continuous movement, no interruption, here to there, to there, and then to there, through space and time in a predictable and well behaved manner that can be timed and followed. But as we saw, that isn’t what happens in entanglement!

As Zeilinger says “under certain circumstances two particles remain one system even if they are separated by a very large distance. They are not really separated in a deep sense… We can keep going and talk about four or five or six particles. It never ends.”

The Dalai Lama then asks: “Are you implying that the entire universe is internally entangled?”

“Anton Zeilinger: That’s a nice idea, but I would not want to take a position on that because, as an experimentalist, I would not know how to prove it.”

OK, for now we can give him that. He’s trying to be honest and stick to what he knows. It’s his job, he feels responsible to the rules of his physics discipline and to his physics brethren and he won’t speculate. We all should do that to some degree, keep to what we know, though I clearly don’t always; that would not be nearly as much fun. In any case it was pretty cool for him to put himself out there as a physicist and be open. As you can tell, I enjoyed their discussion that also goes on to randomness and causality, but enough for now.

Anton Zeilinger has done very far out entanglement delayed choice experiments. Let’s look at one. If Alice and Bob (they always show up in these things; it is really standard nomenclature in information theory and cryptography to invoke Alice and Bob) each create a pair of entangled particles and send one from each pair to Victor so he now has a pair of particles, one from Alice and one from Bob, and then Victor entangles this pair, then Alice and Bob’s remaining particles will also be found to be entangled, even though they didn’t interact directly! This is called entanglement swapping. If Victor doesn’t entangle his pair of particles, then Alice and Bob’s particles will not be entangled. So you can find out what Victor did by seeing if Alice and Bob’s particles are entangled.

Very clever!

But what if Victor makes his choice AFTER Alice and Bob make the measurements that determine whether their particles are entangled, even if only a tiny time bit after?

You guessed it; what Victor decides and what he does with his particles, even AFTER Alice and Bob measured their particles, will determine what they will have found, whether or not their particles are entangled.

Zeilinger and his colleagues published an article in Nature Physics describing such an experiment (Xiao-sung Ma et al Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping, published online 4/12): “This can also be viewed as ‘quantum steering into the past’.”

They end their article saying: “Bohr [a famous founder of quantum mechanics] said that no elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is a registered phenomenon. We would like to extend this by saying that some registered phenomenon do not have meaning unless they are put in relationship with other registered phenomena.”

Like Anton Zeilinger suggests, maybe we should have no pictures, and indulge no speculation beyond the data.

It is enough perhaps to realize that you can’t depend on such pictures, concepts derived from your day-today life at the scale at which you experience the universe with your senses.

But Indra’s web, vast and interconnected beyond imagination, really is a great non-picture picture!



Quantum Peak: Where Are You? Where Are you Going? Are you Sure?


Hakuin Zenji occupying the ground he sits on. Where is he?

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle!

Most of us are uncertain about this or that. In quantum mechanics uncertainty isn’t a matter of confidence or knowledge, it is in the nature of the beast.

I am often amazed how this uncertainty principle is seen by scientists as such a strong principle that observations and outcomes must obey it. No questions asked, no reservations.

Here’s what it says:

There are measurements, things you can know about a particle, say a photon or electron. Some of these come in pairs such that both cannot be known to the same degree of certainty at the same time. Period. Our ability to measure the universe with our senses (and our devices which are extensions of our senses), what we can know by observation, is fundamentally limited.

Often it is said that this is due to the clumsiness and coarseness of our measuring devices. Send in a photon to “see” where the electron is by pinging it, and you now have an interaction that changes things. The size and energy of what you use to “touch” the world of particles is so large proportional to the particles, you can’t help but disturb it, to change it as you measure it.

Fair enough.

But it in fact goes more deep than that.

Lets look at momentum and position.

Momentum is how much oomph something has when it is moving, how much bang it would have if it hit something. If the object has mass, momentum is simply mass times velocity. The more massive the object and faster it is going in a specific direction (velocity is speed and direction, a very important point), the more momentum it has. Since photons have no mass, the momentum is a function of its energy, or wavelength, but that matters little to us here. The idea is the same, directed energy, how much oomph it has in a specific direction.

Lets look at an experiment, shining light at holes in the screen. The light is represented by the golden arrows going left to right.


If we shine a wide beam of light with many photons against a screen that has a hole in it, most of the light is spread out pretty evenly along the screen and will hit the screen pretty evenly all over (well, an area of the screen as large as the beam is). We don’t know where in that beam a given photon is exactly. It is in the room between the light source and the screen it was aimed at, but a given photon can be positioned anywhere in the beam of light (the straight arrows to the left of the screens in the illustration).

But assuming we know the wavelength of the light, and the direction the beam was pointed, we know the momentum of any photon in that beam with a great deal of accuracy. The beam was directed toward the screen, and so if undisturbed should be going pretty straight on (except for the stray cosmic ray or atom in the air hitting the beam, for example, pretty small effects here and they can be minimized), and at the speed of light in air, and so we pretty much know speed and direction pf the beam and so all the photons in it. So while the momentum of individual photons will vary a bit, it won’t be by much.

We can say then that before the light gets to the screen we have little (but some) information about position of the photons in the light, but a lot of information about momentum of the photons.

Next, some of the light goes through the hole on the screen at the left in our illustration. There is a phenomenon called diffraction. When the light leaves the hole, it bends out at the edges. The larger the hole, the less relative bending, the smaller the hole the more bending. Picture a broad water wave going through a small opening in a jetty. On the other side of the hole in the jetty the wave will expand. If it is a big hole, most of the water wave just goes right through undisturbed, only the part of the wave right at the edge of the opening in the jetty is going to spread out again after passing through. So big opening less relative rate of spreading.


A broad wave on the left goes through the holes and then spreads out. This is another way to see diffraction. In this case there are two holes and so the diffracting waves interfere. We will limit ourselves to one hole this post!


Our light now goes through the hole in the screen on the left below.


Only about two arrows from the light on the left enter the hole. We know where the hole is, so now we have a lot more information about position of photons just after they enter and and right after they exit the hole than we had before the light entered the hole. We know pretty well where that light (and any given individual photon in the light beam) in the hole is when it is in the hole or just after it exits the hole so we know with a high probability where a photon that is going through the hole or just exited will be found, much more so than before the light entered the hole.

But due to diffraction induced by the hole when the light exits the hole (to the right in the illustration) the beam spreads out. But at that point, at the exit of the hole, that tails of the arrows are close together, and the area the photons can likely be found is about the size of the hole, so we still have information about position that is much more precise than before. An important point is that it right after the hole at the base of the arrow that matters. It is the direction of the arrow, not what is happening at the tip that counts here. What we see though is that only the central arrows of light are still going in the same direction that they were before entering the hole, as they were not affected by the edges of the hole (really mostly the most central arrow) and are not diffracted. So while we know we will find a given photon in the area about the size of the hole, if it was at the edge of the beam its direction (hence momentum) will have changed considerably. So some photons have the same momentum, but many have changed. We are less certain about momentum because remember, momentum isn’t just speed (the speed of light didn’t change) but also direction (and that for many photons that has changed due to diffraction at the edge of the hole).

We went from knowing little about the position, and a lot about the momentum, to knowing a lot about the position and much less about the momentum of a given photon. The possibilities for position have decreased, the possibilities for the momentum have increased.


On the illustration above, we made the hole in the screen on the right smaller. Now only one arrow from the light coming in from the left  gets through. You guessed it, we then have more information about position on the other side of the hole. It is confined to a smaller area due to the smaller hole. But since the hole is smaller, on leaving the hole there is more diffraction,a large proportion of photons are diffracted (there is less “middle” of the beam for them to avoid being diffracted; by the way it is of course much more compacted than that; but it is a good enough model to have in our heads for us to see what is going on), and the arrows are more widely directed, pointing at more of an angle from the smaller hole than the larger hole (now rather than three almost undisturbed as in the screen at the left, only one goes through unscathed) as there is more hole edge effect (diffraction) for the size of the hole. That is how diffraction works, it increases the smaller the hole.

More diffraction, more range of momenta.

In fact a door in a room diffracts light coming through it and bends it, so light goes around corners just like sound goes around corners. In fact, YOU diffract! But the effect is so small we can not perceive it.

Now with the smaller hole we have even more information about position but less about the momentum. We know with greater certainty where a given photon is likely to be, but even less about what its momentum is. We still know something about the momentum, we are just less certain for a given photon use precisely what it is.


We see this in the graphs. The up axis of the graph (the thin axis arrow pointing up) is the spread of possible momentums, higher up is more momentum. The axis going left to right (the thin axis arrow pointing to the right) is the spread of possible positions. It is simply where the beam is, so where a photon may be found. So the larger our rectangle is up and down, the larger our spread of possible momenta (our uncertainty for a given photon is larger) and the wider the rectangle, the larger our spread of possible positions, (our uncertainty about position is larger).


Graphs of possible states of momentum (up and down), and position (left to right), for the light before it enters the hole (left graph), the large hole (center graph) and the small hole (right graph) .


In the graph on the left, we see a wide spread of potential positions, but a narrow band of momenta. This is the beam before it goes through the hole. So we end up with a narrow rectangle in blue; narrow up and down as momentum is pretty well known (reflecting little uncertainty about the momentum of any given photon in the beam) but very long left and right (reflecting great uncertainty as to just where a photon may be as the beam is wider than the hole before going through the hole).

In the middle graph, we see the situation as the light exits the larger hole. We know less about momentum, so the square is larger up and down, reflecting more uncertainty about momentum due to diffraction and the new direction the light can take. There are now more momenta a photon can have, more directions. New directions means new momenta. On the other hand, we know more about the possible position of the photons because where they are as they exit the hole is limited by the size of the hole, and this is a smaller hole, limiting where they are likely to be, so the rectangle is narrower left and right. We are less uncertain as to where the photon is; it just left the hole so that limits where we are likely to find it, outside of effects like quantum tunneling, a subject for later!


The graph on the right is what happens after light passes through the smaller hole. We are more certain about the possible positions of the photons as this is limited by the smaller size of the hole, so the rectangle is narrower left and right, but we are more uncertain about momentum (more diffraction changing the direction) so the rectangle is wider up and down.

The area of the square and how this area is distributed is the critical thing to look at. Areas in calculus are the “integral,” in this case “integrating” (summing up) our knowledge of possible values for momentum and position in our experimental set up, as it were. Making them squares of one density is too simple of course. The potential state of the photon may not be equally likely to be anywhere in the square. Some states are more likely than others. The likely position, for example, may be more concentrated in the center just opposite the hole. But I wanted to introduce a way to see very important and mathematically sophisticated quantum ideas. The area of the square is the “probability density” of where you will likely find the photon and what its momentum may be in this “space of states,” (that is official quantum jargon) that is, the space, or dimensions, of momentum and position in our experimental set up.

A quantum scientist can never speak about how it “REALLY is” just what is the range of possibilities given your experiment. This relates to integral calculus and Fourier transforms. It relates to the very heart of quantum mechanics. (Congratulations). Much of a course in quantum mechanics is solving such problems of the space of states in a given situation and the areas that reflect probabilities.

These quantum effects, this uncertainty of the “material” world, just like diffraction at a doorway, are real for you and me and cars and galaxies. We can’t see them, as they are very small at the scale of our sensory apparatus (eyes). We think we can look at the speedometer of our car and the direction we are driving and where we are on the road and know both momentum and position, but even there, as soon as we note all that, it has changed. But even if we have a set up that can look at all of this data simultaneously (a whole discussion right there) it would be changing not only because it takes time to observe and note all of these things, a computer can do that very quickly, but because there is no difference between us and the quantum world other than what our limitations as embodied beings relying on sense impressions at our scale imposes.

That is, you don’t know both your position and momentum with 100% accuracy. Just well enough to get through the door (well, and then some).

An interesting implication of this is quite consistent with the Buddhist teachings about change and impermanence. There is never no movement. Not at absolute zero, not ever. If there were no movement it would violate the uncertainty principle. We would know position exactly (wherever we froze the particle) and momentum exactly (no momentum if it isn’t moving!). Really, that’s what I meant at the beginning. This principle is so basic, so essential in the math as well as our observations, that scientists will not allow it to be breached. Like conservation of energy, it is foundational in science.

So what does it mean to me? Is it cool that some aspect of Buddhist philosophy has scientific validation? Sure, I like that, but that isn’t all that important really I think. It also is a taste of the unreasonable ability of math (that was very, very sophisticated math back there) to reflect reality.

And more importantly, as before, it reminds us that what we see, what we can determine about the nature of reality using our senses, is dependent on our limitations, our projections, our assumptions. The concepts, words and intuitions we have developed in the 4 dimensional world of space and time are mere approximations. Don’t get too attached to them. That is what this aspect of the quantum world says to me.


There is no fixed place.


Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle!